London. 'There's a yearning for spicy, complex
avours, and particularly important for us
is that it's not all stuck in a bun; there's a
plethora of dishes. The other interesting thing
is that because there are so many regions and
inuences they cross over well, even when
fusing with non-south-east Asian cultures.'
Street Feast organiser Adam Layton says it
has to do with the fact that their crowd are
'pick-'n'-mixers' who like sampling
things from many di�erent
countries: 'There's a huge demand.
At Riverside Feast in Battersea last
year we worked with Kushi's, who
specialise in yakitori - Japanese
barbecue. They came to us with a
great menu of spicy, grilled meat
skewers and sansho-rubbed baby
back ribs - perfect for sharing.'
James Wright represents the Legacy of
Taste Pagodas initiative, which organises
a panel to award UK restaurants that best
illustrate ne and innovative Chinese food.
Over the past ve years, he has seen new
avours being opened up to Londoners, even
though in most high-end Chinese restaurants
in London you tend to nd an English
interpretation of the original dish.
'People are being more adventurous
with Chinese food now. In London it's about
everyone made a booking at the Japanese
pub Woodstock o� Oxford Street, or
Engawa in the Ham Yard Hotel for Japanese
beef chazuke? If not, it's time to stop hiding
beneath your salmon and avocado maki rolls.
In November 2014, following Fay Maschler's
review of two new Thai restaurants, Som Saa
and Smoking Goat, in the Evening Standard,
an urgent feasting began. Of the former, she
claimed that morsels such as the citrus-cured
wild sea bass with ka¥r lime, lemongrass and
mint on a betel leaf induced 'shock and awe'.
Of Smoking Goat she reckoned that the whole
Cornish crab and its otherworldly sauce was
'worth dirtying your nails and wrecking your
shirt for'. Now, of course, you must get there
before 6pm if you want to secure a table.
At Som Saa, the e�ect was electric. Co-founder
Tom George says he is thrilled to have had
visitors from Northampton and
Dorset, restaurant industry diners
'and a large number of Thai
people too'. Chef Andy Oliver's
jan naem (grilled fermented pork
with peanuts, ginger, cabbage and
chilli) has developed 'a kind of cult
following. It's great to see how
open Londoners have been to
what is quite an unusual avour
for a Western palate.'
So why are these unfamiliar avours
appearing so regularly now? Old-hand foodies
will remember the opening of Rainer Becker's
rst Japanese grill restaurant, Roka, over 10
years ago, which was partly responsible for
setting a new tone of trendy, stylish, oriental
restaurants. But Juliet Shields, a London
restaurant consultant, believes we should
look further back to two sources: Alan Yau's
rst Wagamama in 1992 and Peter Gordon's
1989 arrival from
New Zealand with,
she explains, 'new
avours that resulted
from blending western
and south-east Asian
inuences - ideas
picked up on his travels.
Both men have been
Gordon inspiring the Modern Pantry and
Caravan into fusion existence, and Alan
Yau channelling his Asian preferences into
Hakkasan, Yauatcha and Busaba Eathai.'
Much of the recent obsession with
oriental avours - sweet, sour, salty, crunchy
- has grown out of London's street food
movement, and from its frenetic night
markets and parties. Loosely inspired by
those found in east and south-east Asia,
they give people an opportunity to see how
their food is being cooked without paying
too hefty a price. Since each business marks
itself with sparky branding, short menus and
an online network on which to discuss and
share photos, there has been huge scope for
conversation around this sort of food.
'We've existed for the past 20-odd years
on such a small but overwhelmingly wellreceived
sample of south-east Asian food,'
says Dominic Cools-Lartigue, founder of
the Street Feast parties that pop up across
58 | squaremeal.co.uk
restaurants � food
'THERE ARE SO MANY INFLUENCES THAT
THEY CROSS OVER WELL, EVEN WHEN FUSING
WITH NON�SOUTH�EAST ASIAN CULTURES'
DOMINIC COOLS�LARTIGUE, STREET FEAST
Clockwise from above: Som Saa's deep-fried sea bass; Japanese-style brunch
at Koji; Judy Joo brings Amerikorean cuisine to Soho at Jinjuu in Kingly Street